I was in my mid 30's when I opened my first gallery and framing business. The Eagle Gallery, Epsom, was in a small new development off the High Street, with the gallery on the ground floor and framing workshop above.
At the time I had no experience of running any sort of retail business or any experience of professional framing. What the hell was I thinking of?
Since leaving school I had followed a number of careers. I was always looking for a challenge and not afraid to move on if I got bored or it didn't work out.
First of all I went into an office in Northampton and started training to become a chartered surveyor, then there was a spell with the Army, cut short by injury this has to be my biggest disappointment. Motor racing followed, my year out to see if I could drive turned into five years. I soon found out I didn't have any blinding natural talent for driving so I turned to building and managing cars which was a lot more fun and successful than my driving.
Now married I thought I needed to get a proper job and joined a family firm, as an installation and service engineer, supplying specialist automotive test equipment. This led to me starting a company building industrial washing machines. I sold this business to another company, Laser Engineering, and subsequently became their sales and marketing manager. Eighteen months later they went into liquidation, not my fault, in the recession of the early 90's. It did however prove to me that I didn't work well in large companies playing petty politics and silly games.
So there I was a free agent with a clean sheet of paper, wondering what to do next. Well not quite a clean sheet, I was married with a mortgage and a child on the way. As I had been made redundant and my wife wanted to continue working I looked after Rachel for the next two years while planning what to do next. I wanted to be my own boss and I wanted to do something I enjoyed which is where the idea of an art gallery and framing business came in.
I remember buying my first print, when I must have been about ten years old and I still have it framed at home. Picture framing followed some years later more of a necessity than an interest when I had a wardrobe filling with artwork and nothing on the walls. It was a very minor hobby and had only ever considered it for my own pictures.
For several years I had been working as a volunteer for the David Shepherd Conservation Foundation, touring the country helping with talk shows and exhibitions. This combined my interest in wildlife, art and a fantastic artist and had given me an insight into the art world.
The end of 1993 saw another change of direction and another career. My major worry on signing a twenty-five-year lease was whether I would continue to enjoy the art and framing. It is one thing doing something as a hobby quite another having to do it every day to professional standards for someone else. What if I didn't like it or got bored? I decided to cross that bridge when I got to it. Fifteen years later I still haven't reached that bridge, if anything I'm more enthusiastic and inspired than I was then, I'm certainly more knowledgeable, more skilled, still have more to learn and plenty to do.
I have always believed in quality both in service and workmanship, I can't work any other way. From the start I strived to work to the highest standards and was constantly on the lookout for ways to differentiate the business from other galleries and framers.
The GCF qualification started in 1995 and I immediately saw the benefits this could offer. I was one of the first to take the test and I am now an examiner for the scheme.
Another area that I enjoy exploiting is that of competitions. They can provide excellent publicity and credibility; act as good examples for customers and I also really like doing them.
I love the freedom and creative opportunities of competitions, as the only constraints are the theme, a few general rules and your imagination. No wallpaper to match, dodgy taste to influence or a tight budget to restrict choices.
I have a very specific and personal approach to competitions. The image is always the focal point, even in a framing competition, but my aim is to make the framing an extension of the image rather than merely a fancy means of hanging it on the wall. I strive to get the character of the piece often doing considerable research for added background information always looking for design and colour combinations, shapes, period styles, materials, fonts or anything that can give me an idea to enhance the work of art.
I am always keen to do something different either in presentation, combinations or new techniques. Quite often I have an idea and the fun is trying to make it work, I'm not always successful.
The final entry is hopefully a total work of art enhancing the image but also adding something more than just a frame.
It is a system that has had some success in that I have won six Fine Art Trade Guild Competitions, this is more than anyone else. In the same competitions I have been a finalist on eighteen occasions and as far as I know no one gets close to this figure either. I have also trained five framers that have also been finalists and one even beat me by winning the last Glass & Mirror Competition. Needless to say they got fired.
The main thing is that I still really enjoy framing, in competitions and for customers. Not so keen on getting beaten in competitions though.